Dubai was the centre stage of the biggest property exhibit on earth last month and Money Magazine was there to witness the billion-dollar deals in the three-day real estate event that will change the shape of the Middle East in the years ahead.
It's already the biggest property show in the world, and this year's exhibition got even bigger.
Cityscape 2007 has smashed all previous attendance records, with 45,000 participants from 120 countries across three days locked in real estate chat at Dubai's own International Convention and Exhibition Centre. Thousands of regional and international investors, property developers, governmental and development authorities, leading architects, designers, consultants and industry professionals from around the globe witnessed the unveiling of some of the world's most spectacular residential and commercial property projects over 72 hours.
Of course the big-dollar deals took all the glory. Everyone was expecting one of the big three Dubai government-backed property giants to announce a multi-billion dollar development, and this year was Dubai Properties' turn.
On the second day the state-owned company unveiled its much-anticipated US$11bn project, a 678-hectare mixed-used development to be built in Dubailand - a colossal entertainment and leisure complex being constructed on the outskirts of the city. Named Mudon, Arabic for ‘Cities', it will house almost 50,000 people and include a range of villas, town houses and apartments, as well as a 93-hectare golf course. The project will be carried out in six phases and is scheduled for completion by 2012. Phases one and two of the project are already underway and are anticipated to be finished by the end of 2009. The design of the development will be themed around five prominent Arab cities, including Damascus, Marrakech, Cairo, Beirut and, perhaps surprisingly, Baghdad. Mohamed Binbrek, CEO at Dubai Properties, said the developer chose these particular five cities in an attempt to "bring the past into the future". Binbrek said the project would be entirely self-funded.
On the first day Dubai Properties unveiled a smaller, but equally impressive development within the emirate's growing Business Bay, the US$1bn Bay Square. The 46.5-hectare development will be made up of 13 buildings, including a boutique hotel and an exclusive residential tower. Other Dubai Properties projects include the Business Bay Vision Tower and Executive Towers, Culture Village, the Jumeirah Beach Residence and The Villa and Al Waha Villas in Dubailand.
Sustainability and the environment was the prevailing theme at this year's Cityscape. Omniyat Properties revealed three new regional projects around that theme which will see its initial investment in real estate treble to US$2.7bn in 2008. According to Omniyat, it will be "unlike anything the world has ever seen".
Since its inception, the company has already launched two residential and five commercial projects valued at over US$1.4bn, making it one of the region's fastest growing property developers.
Two new plots of land in Business Bay, facing the widest part of the Dubai Creek, with a built-up area of 700,000 sq ft will be used to develop a premium office complex similar in scale to Omniyat's hugely-successful project, The Opus, which has been 80% sold out since first being revealed in London five months ago. This new double-plot project will be ready for launch early next year.
Located on Dubai Waterfront - a master development by Nakheel - another new project will face the Palm Jebel Ali and will occupy one of the largest single plots of land available on the main beachfront in an area to be known as Madinat Al Arab. According to the company it will be designed by a star architect, guided by Omniyat's creative and innovative in-house product design team.
Omniyat is already working with some of the world's top international architects in Europe and the US on designing a US$544m multi-use real estate project on this plot of land. The 1.5 million sq ft project will include a 6-star hotel, residential apartments, serviced apartments and a shopping mall. All the apartments and hotel rooms will have a sea view, and will enjoy private access to the beach. Residents in the project will enjoy a public park that separates the plot on one side from the adjoining plot. At the other end of Dubai, in The Lagoons master-plan being executed by Sama Dubai, a subsidiary of Dubai Holdings - Omniyat has acquired four side-by-side creek-facing plots of land which overlook the Flamingo Wildlife Sanctuary on the east end of the Dubai Creek, just a couple of miles from Business Bay.
Omniyat is currently organising a competition among four leading architects to design a 1.4 million sq ft project in The Lagoons. Four plots of land will be used to create one massive project with a value of more than US$680m. It will have a residential element, a serviced apartment's element, a retail element and a hotel element.
The launch date is expected to be around the start of the second quarter of 2008, with a hat-trick of launches in the first quarter of the year. The three projects have a total area of 4 million sq ft and have a value of US$1.6bn.
Omniyat Properties' CEO Mehdi Amjad, said: "In comparison our first five projects in 2006 had half the area of these three projects - around two million sq ft and less than half the value, as the total value of One Business Bay, Bayswater, The Binary, The Gemini and The Square combined is around US$760m. The value of the two projects - The Pad and The Opus is US$700m," he added. "The Pad is the project to date of which we are the most proud. It's a clear example of our innovation in design and concept, as we had come up with the concept of a building that reflects the aspirations of what is known as the iPod generation."
Contracts worth US$1.25bn were awarded to world-renowned leaders in sustainable design, Nikken Sekkei.
One of world's largest architectural practices will undertake a number of projects across the UAE and Saudi Arabia including the Burj Al Alam, a US$501m landmark in Business Bay, Dubai. Other projects include the design of the centerpiece of the new Dubai Maritime City as well as the mixed used Andalusia project in Jeddah.
The Japanese architectural giant used this year's Cityscape to demonstrate its commitment to sustainable design through its exhibition of five major projects. "Due to the increased awareness of the benefits of sustainable development, especially in the Middle East, Cityscape Dubai has provided us with a great opportunity to demonstrate our excellence in green technology," said Dr Fadi Jabri, general manager and Nikken's representative in the UAE. "They are no longer concepts, this technology is not only accessible, it's cost-effective," he added.
Meanwhile, Nakheel's CEO Chris O'Donnell had his own views on the issue of sustainability. He told Money that a number of Gulf developers were simply paying "lip service" to the issue of sustainability and were at a "superficial level in terms of their promises".
"Lots of people are paying lip service to this issue [sustainability]. A few want to change things and change the region's culture on sustainability," O'Donnell said. "Some developers are at a superficial level in terms of their promises of sustainability."
However, O'Donnell said that the "tipping point" would occur when "everyone else starts doing it properly". O'Donnell's comments follow calls from Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar, for the Gulf real estate sector to seriously address sustainability issues if it wants to deliver US$500bn worth of regional developments planned over the next seven years.
"These planned developments will require an additional two million cubic metres of water per day, 75 million additional megawatt hours of energy per year, all while producing an additional 3.5 million tonnes of solid waste and 300 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year," Al Jaber concluded. "This level of growth is not sustainable."